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Helene’s Story – 2 Times Pancreatic Cancer Survivor

Helene Avraham-Katz had the idea to open a store while she was undergoing 8 hours of chemotherapy a day. The idea felt unrealistic at the time since doctors said she had less than a 5% chance of surviving her pancreatic cancer for more than 2 years. But she wanted to focus on hope. So, she persevered – planning a store named The Butterfly Effect that would feature the work of local artists and crafters.

Helene, a pancreatic cancer survivor, in her store the Butterfly Effect

Against all odds, she opened that store in 2019 – almost a year to the day after finishing chemo for the second time. All 5 of her chemo nurses were there for the ribbon cutting.

“I call it The Butterfly Effect because if a butterfly flaps its wings in one place, it can cause a tornado far away with the ripple effect. My personal butterfly effect came from my friends, family, community, and incredible medical teams who flapped their wings to help me be here. I want to provide that hope and support for others now and the store does that. It’s become a very special place,” Helene says.

Helene’s stayed focused on hope since she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2016. It hasn’t always been easy. Her mother passed away from pancreatic cancer 17 years ago. Her uncle died of it two years before her diagnosis and within a year of her diagnosis, both her father and father-in-law passed away. But Helene decided she could chart her own path. She beat the cancer twice, wrote a book called The Butterfly Effect and is now growing her store by the same name.

She was forced to shut it down when COVID hit in March 2020, but she reopened it in May of the following year, and today she says the store is going strong. The store features the work of about 50 local artists and crafters who sell creations ranging from pottery and jewelry to photographs and postcards.

In the summer of 2022, she added something in the store that she calls ‘The Caring Corner – when words are not enough.’ It is a place in the store where people can find all sorts of gifts to support friends and family going through a hard time – whether it be cancer, a death in the family, divorce or some other medical issue. There are bags, baskets, shawls, stuffed caring creatures, surrender boxes and custom gifts for people with drains, mastectomies, wheelchairs, walkers and more.

The Caring Corner in Helene's store The Butterfly Effect

“This is something I’ve wanted to do since we started the store. It was always part of my vision. I want to use this store to support others and give them opportunities. That’s good for my soul,” she explains.  “Originally I was focused on products supporting people on health journeys, but we’ve expanded it now to anyone going through a hard time – physically, mentally, emotionally.”

“The store has become a special place for so many and I meet the most unbelievable, inspiring people there,” she continues. “I spend hours talking to people in the store. Recently a father whose child had cancer came in and we talked and cried for a long time. I’m not a therapist but I can give anyone a hug and listen.

Helene says it’s possible for her to give back because she receives support herself through a clinical trial that’s saving her life and from the Lazarex Cancer Foundation. This summer she found Lazarex Cancer Foundation, the only non-profit that reimburses patients for travel to and from cancer clinical trials. In Helene’s case, those costs have added up to more than $20,000 in one year. Lazarex covers costs for her to travel to Abramson Cancer Center in Philadelphia every 8 to 12 weeks to take part in a clinical trial for her type of cancer and bring a companion to help her on the trip, which is exhausting.

Clients at the Butterfly Effect store

“My husband and I have been paying for travel and lodging for the trial for four years and looking for help everywhere because it’s been rough. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do, and how long we could keep affording it, so finding Lazarex was a lifesaver,” she explains. “The fact that I can go with someone is huge. It’s so much easier having someone with me because I’ve had some major issues on flights when my sugar tanks and I’m not feeling well.”

Helene’s about to undergo radiation but says she’ll still be at the store as much as possible. “I don’t like to just sit around. I truly believe there has to be a bigger reason for me being here. Not many people in my situation still have choices. Being able to be a part of this trial, and staying in it, has made a huge difference in my life – it is the reason I am here,” she says.

The store’s slogan is “Be the catalyst for change”. My mantra is “Never stop believing in hope because miracles happen every day” – it is on a big sign as you walk into the store and on the backs of our Butterfly Effect shirts and tote bags.

“These have been the most difficult years of my life – and also some of the best. You can’t remain the same. Cancer does change you. Now I’m just trying to live life to the fullest every day and make a difference in other people’s lives. That, for me, is the main motivation for all I do. To pay it forward and see if I can help anyone else because I truly have been blessed.”